According to PMQ Pizza Magazine’s 2018 Pizza Power Report, there are a whopping 75,243 pizza joints in the United States. That’s a lot of pie. The report also reveals that the lynchpin to making your slice stand out — especially for the independent restaurants hoping to remain competitive against leading chains Pizza Hut and Domino’s — isn’t the quality of your mozzarella, but the use of the latest technology.

This finding comes as no surprise to restaurant industry insiders like Mary Pat Heftman, the executive vice president of conventions and strategic alliances for the National Restaurant Association, who shares that nowadays, all fast-casual operators are adopting technologies tied to their point of sale system that allow them to better leverage customer data. 
 

Utilizing customer data

When restaurants can use the data to better predict customers’ future buying behavior, it can have numerous positive implications for how a business is run, from informing new product development to navigating accurate product inventory. If, Heftman offers as a simple example, a customer consistently orders spicy pepperoni and spicy sausage, “…then maybe just about anything you do with spice or, other proteins you come up with containing spice, they'll be interested in.”

Another way customer data helps pizza restaurants is through the development of robust customer loyalty programs, which Heftman insists are a must for any competitive business these days in terms of client engagement and retention.

“There's a tremendous amount of work being done within the restaurant industry around reducing waste."

“Loyalty programs certainly give an affinity and a better connection to specific restaurants,” Heftman explains. “If you're on a street with a lot of a similar type of restaurant, you're going to choose the ones that you have a loyalty program with.”

Since many restaurants are now developing such programs, Heftman points out, the key to remaining competitive is using customer data to develop unique programs that reach beyond the more traditional plan of “after x points, you have x rewards that you can use towards menu items.”

Pizza is going green

Another way savvy restaurants are drawing in customers is by appealing to their desire to go green. “There's a tremendous amount of work being done within the restaurant industry around reducing waste,” Heftman says.

From mom-and-pop shops to international chains, the industry is seeing a shift towards sustainability with recyclable delivery and to-go packaging and a decrease in the use of plastic straws. New technologies are being used to help with water and light conservation, and companies are being more mindful about where and how their ingredients are produced or harvested.

Especially in the landscape of constantly evolving technology, Heftman advises aspiring pizza slingers to pick the brains of those already in business. “The best resource you can use are [restaurant owners] who have started out on their own,” she says.

If you're looking to build a career at an already established brand or chain of restaurants, her advice is similar. The path to success, she shares, starts by consulting people who have become leaders in the business. Soon, employees will be able to fast track their careers towards management with new “career-pathing” educational opportunities. The certificate programs and individual classes will be geared towards entry-level employees looking to explore opportunities and build skills that will help them work towards a career in the industry.

For those who aren’t ready to make the big leap to ownership and aren’t interested in a career commitment, Heftman points out that working in the pizza word has always offered a wide range of working options. “I think by nature of what our business has been, we have always been an outlet for people who were looking for part-time or temporary work,” Heftman points out, giving the example of a parent handling childcare. “It allows them the opportunity to be in the work force and make an income and have flexibility.”

With wider adoption of robotics as the “next big thing” on the horizon and Americans as pizza-obsessed as ever, this is definitely an industry you’re going to want to be a part of.